As New Girl evolved throughout its first season, the show’s writers and producers made a crucial decision regarding Schmidt: They allowed him to be as flawed as all three of his roommates. The chinks in his armor were apparent from the pilot forward, but as the show progressed, they came to define the character (and what was funny about him) as much as any of his impeccably coiffed “douchebag” qualities. A character as outwardly shallow as Schmidt is all about keeping up appearances; any well-executed opportunity to make him look “bad”—and “bad” here is Schmidt’s idea of bad, as in vulnerable and/or human—reflects well on the show.
It’s the inevitable comedown from the “Nick kissed Jess” trilogy, but “TinFinity” does a better job of poking comedic and dramatic holes in Schmidt’s self-image than last year’s “Control.” It benefits from having Schmidt and Cece’s breakup to work with; it also tops that previous episode by being able to build on and bounce off of the latest happenings in the Year of Nick Miller. The characters begin the episode acting like the last 10 years set them on different paths occupying separate strata of success and fulfillment, but they’ve never appeared more like the equals they claim to be than in that moment when neither can fess up to why they’re leaving a party thrown in their honor. Schmidt almost gets himself to admit it, but he does so in the most self-preserving way possible: “It’s just disappointing when things don’t work out the way you thought they would, you know?” Oh, we know, Schmidt—it’s written all over Max Greenfield’s face after the blinding glow of Shivrang’s proposal to Cece subsides.
That proposal sequence is New Girl at its best, in the middle of an episode that occasionally finds the show at its most broad and cartoonish. You can read Steve Howey’s baldly sentimental San Francisco 49er Jax McTavish as a necessary check to Schmidt’s very public, highly emotional defeat—but the way that defeat lands and the gravity with which “TinFinity” treats it demonstrates that New Girl doesn’t have to lean on such straightforwardly “comic” material. That’s not meant to detract from the show’s frequent dalliances with slapstick—the irony of Cece agreeing to marry Shevrang amid theatrics that were intended as a tribute to Schmidt and Nick’s friendship is simply a richer vein of humor.
It’s a stronger thematic tie to the rest of the episode, too. As much as I want to know how those manic lighting cues and silver streamers illustrated Schmidt and Nick’s relationship, it wouldn’t sit right with “TinFinity,” a half-hour that, like Lucille Bluth, gets off on being withholding. Even if it misses the mark, to me, Jax’s blubbering signifies the potential ugliness of Nick and Jess being open about to their feelings for one another. It’s telling that Jess can’t get Nick’s mouth off of her mind: She’s both eager and terrified to hear what that mouth has to say about her. In “TinFinity,” there’s a certain elegance to playing your cards close to your vest, which Winston tries (and hilariously fails) to convey to Jess throughout her flirtations with Jax.
Yet for all the Jess/Nick and Schmidt/Cece tension running throughout “TinFinity,” this is squarely a Schmidt/Nick episode. Its central event is a party celebrating their decade of sharing the same roof, a milestone that’s pathetic by most metrics but endearing by the standards of New Girl. The show wouldn’t be the same without the long-standing relationships at its core, and the TinFinity party is ostensibly about Schmidt and Nick—but it also illustrates the importance of all the friendships on New Girl. At the top of the episode, Cece wonders aloud to Jess about why they came to be friends with two guys throwing a “masculine garden party” in the name of platonic companionship. It’s a rhetorical question, and it’s said in jest, but it’s a statement of where New Girl is at, in terms of its overall arc as well as the kinks “Cooler” threw into that arc. Like “A Father’s Love,” “Tinfinity”doesn’t ask “How?” when it can ask “Why?” That, coupled with Winston’s “Table 34” admonishment, establish what’s at stake on a post-kiss New Girl. As with any indelible moment of the show, the “Why?”s of “TinFinity” get their answers when the writing and the acting meet each other in the middle: in flourishes like Jake Johnson’s peeved reaction to the toast Schmidt prepares for Nick, or the sequence a few minutes later when Johnson and Max Greenfield have what’s alternately their funniest and most heartfelt exchange to date. Or when the party that Schmidt invited dozens of people to is winnowed down to four roommates in the basket of an uninflated hot air balloon. (Classic Nick: He was so distracted by purchasing a used Porta Potty he forgot to order propane for the balloon.) Both Nick and Schmidt overshot the target for TinFinity, and that makes them more than friends: It makes them equals.
It also makes Jess run screaming from the balloon basket, her own personal panic-moonwalk away from an increasingly complicated situation. She might not feel like she wants to date a guy who’s as much of an open book as Jax, but she could be warming up to the notion of sharing another kiss with a man whose entire life is symbolized by a grounded hot air balloon. (His entire life could probably fit in the basket of that hot air balloon as well.) But that’s a big decision, one that’s being saved for another week and another episode. Because that kiss meant something, and Jess needs to maintain the appearance that it didn’t. It’s now up to the writing staff (and, by extension, the character) to determine whether or not returning to that feeling is worth sacrificing a future TinFinity party. Or, you know, working toward a TinFinity party of a different kind.
- This week in New Girl pseudonyms: None, though I get the feeling that “Jax McTavish” could’ve been given to a future alter ego if it hadn’t been assigned to Howey’s character.
- The “microchips are as small as blueberries” guy is Schmidt if the character was introduced tonight, rather than in the pilot. Come to think of it, all of the guys in the bar reflect facets of Jess’ roommates: The first guy doesn’t wash his pants, the second and third guy have the vocabulary and moisturizing habits of Schmidt, and none of them have game—just like Winston!
- This week is a treasure trove of great Zooey Deschanel reactions and Jake Johnson gibberish. The best examples of the former come during Jax’s ill-advised public proposal; the most shining example of the latter is whatever nonsense Nick yells at Sanders regarding the Porta Potty—it’s unintelligible, but I think there’s something along the lines of “wipe your butt with some strawberry crème” in there…
- Selections from The Quotable Nick Miller, part the first: When told his Porta Potty is garbage: “Garbage—that’s what the nursing home said about my mattress.”
- Rubbing novelty-cake salt in Schmidt’s wound: “It’s shaped like an infinity sign because they’re going to be together forever!”
- Selections from The Quotable Nick Miller, part the second: Worthy of framing: “10 years of living together—upsetting, but kind of great.”